SPCA, parish apart on shelter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 21, 2001


PHOTO: A LOVEABLE PUPPY in need of adoption at the St. John Animal Shelter. LAPLACE – A common ground seems far from sight in the continuing conflicts between the Riverlands chapter of Some People Care for Animals (SPCA) and the St. John Animal Shelter and parish administration. At the March 13 St. John Parish council meeting, Councilman Lester Rainey, Jr. read a letter from the SPCA that voiced concerns about the handling of the St. John Animal Shelter and also raised serious allegations against the facility and its employees. Accusations that include mismanagement of the shelter and breaking laws within the facility were made by the SPCA. “I’m not an animal lover, but I’m not an animal hater. I want the program to work. It’s not fair to them to ignore their concerns,” said Rainey. Councilman Dale Wolfe agreed that the problem needed to be solved. “We need to resolve this matter. This has been going on too long,” he said. Parish President Nickie Monica assured the council that any allegations would be investigated, though he has no reason to believe anything is amiss at the shelter. According to Heidi Hogan of the St. John Humane Society, the SPCA has every right to be concerned. Hogan, who worked at the local shelter on Water Plant Road for eight years, said that when Monica became parish president, he hired a paid employee and sent the Humane Society elsewhere. After a motion was brought up by Councilwoman Melissa Faucheux, the parish terminated its contract with the Humane Society and decided to hire parish employees in May 2000. “I don’t think he realized what it takes to run a shelter. I think he thought it was just a place to play with animals,” Hogan said. At the time of the contract termination, however, parish officials were concerned with inconsistencies they were finding in the Humane Society’s records. Hogan said the shelter was just starting to get better when she was forced to leave. “Now I get calls all the time saying that animals aren’t even being picked up,” she said. “I just tell them, You need to talk to Nickie.'” Monica said when people call about a stray animal that animal is immediately picked up. He said they receive very few complaints from constituents. “If someone calls with a stray dog in the neighborhood, we go out. We respond to the people’s complaints,” he said. Monica added that improvements have been made to the shelter, which include a trailer that houses the employees’ office and the shelter has been cleaned up in the past few months. Two condemned trailers were taken to the landfill. He added that eight acres of land near the airport are still being dedicated for a new shelter. The problem is there are no funds to build the new shelter. Some parish officials believe this problem will most likely have to be resolved by the people in the parish. In order for proper funding to be available for shelter purposes, the public will have to decide if they want to create a millage fee plan. According to Public Works Director Henry DiFranco they have made enormous strides given the money they have to work with. The parish has $85,000 a year dedicated to animal control, and $20,000 of that is being taken away from drainage funds. DiFranco said improvements have been made to the shelter. “It was atrocious, filthy,” he said. He said it is a lot cleaner now. “We’re trying to do what is right.” Currently, 25 cents of every $1.50 mosquito control fee listed on the water bill is dedicated to animal control each month. Everything else needed for animal control is taken out of the public works fund, which means around $40,000 is taken from streets and drainage. DiFranco said this situation has happened in other parishes. The only way to improve animal control and shelter conditions is to go to the people for a vote, he added. “The council needs to take the lead and ask that it go to a vote of the people. Administration has to work within a budget. We can’t cut services to the people to fund animal control. We don’t have adequate funding,” said DiFranco. He added that neighboring parishes have Animal Control Departments, and some have up to $400,000 a year for animal control. DiFranco said it is ultimately up to the people of St. John. “Let the people decide. Do they want a program, or are they happy with what they have now?” he said. The shelter is always in need of volunteers and people who wish to adopt pets. The public is encouraged to visit the shelter at 124 Water Plant Road, located off of River Road in LaPlace. The phone number is 651-7387.